Spirit-Killing Complicity

90 % of business meetings are unnecessary. The quality of conversation that occurs does not warrant the time allotted for the meeting. Magic will not happen. A click of the SEND button to disburse updates would have done the trick.

But here’s the real price we pay.

Every time we engage in another redundant social exchange, we accelerate a slow death. Second by futile second we kill the spirit of everyone who is present. We destroy creativity, initiative, optimism. We extinguish the fire that fuels exceptional work.

Now to you and me.

We have both sat in such meetings. We have sensed the absence of collective energy. We wanted to say something. Our butts were starting to itch in their seats, our chests tightening into defensive shields. We felt the slow death. We wanted to scream.

What did you do? What did I do?

I attended a strategy planning session a couple of months ago. Ted, the GM, kicked it off with a series of research slides. They droned on. And on and on and on. Until Lyn spoke.

I know you have carefully planned this session, Ted! Lyn said softly but firmly. But you’re losing me. I am feeling the energy die in this room. Can we open up the conversation?

Her words matched my sentiments. It took Lyn to say them. What interests me are all the reasons we invent for not speaking up. Our internal mind police as we witness the collective energy drain:

  1. I don’t want to be the one who always rescues the team.

  2. I don’t feel safe speaking up.

  3. I don’t want to be attacked for my opinion.

  4. I don’t want to create tension in the group.

  5. It is futile to speak up.

Lyn’s comment stopped the slow death. The moment she finished, others spoke up. Surprising ideas were shared. The energy in the meeting began to crackle.

As I ponder the spirit-killing-meeting, I think of the legendary theatre director Peter Brook. He wrote “The Empty Space,” a now classic book on how we create performance and make meaning. Anytime a group of folks gather in an empty space, Brook postulates, they have the opportunity to create magic. When done well, they make a holy theatre. When not, they perpetuate a deadly one.

Spirit-killing-meetings are the business variant of deadly theatre. You and I are actors in this form of life-less spectacle. And second by second, we have choices about how we fill the empty space.

Next time you sit in a meeting, contemplate the following: What is the energy in this meeting? To what extent am I complicit in any spirit-killing-conversation? What, if anything, can I do to be less complicit?

Consider these questions. And act. Because complicit sucks for everyone involved.